LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The city of Ontario has approved a legal settlement with officers from its own police department who sued over being secretly and illegally videotaped while dressing and undressing in the department's men's locker room. The class-action lawsuit was brought on behalf of about 125 Ontario police officers by the ACLU of Southern California and the law firm of Hadsell, Stormer, Keeny, Richardson and Renick LLP.
The $2.75 million settlement, which includes attorney's fees, was approved by the Ontario City Council on Tuesday night and will be divided among the officers. The settlement brings the long-running case to a close and avoids a trial -- originally scheduled to begin in U.S. District Court in Riverside yesterday - to determine the amount of damages to be awarded, and whether the secret taping was authorized by then-Police Chief Lloyd Scharf and one of his lieutenants.
The ACLU/SC had already won a judgment that the locker-room surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment. That decision was affirmed in 2006 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Peter Eliasberg, managing attorney for the ACLU/SC, said he's glad the city finally stood up and accepted responsibility for the illegal surveillance and attempts by city employees to cover it up after the video recording device was discovered. 'What was particularly outrageous about this case was that police supervisors would install video surveillance in a place that is obviously set aside for privacy, and that they would do it without a search warrant. Most members of the Ontario Police Department know from their academy training that you simply can't do that sort of thing,' Eliasberg said.
Ontario Police Detective Scott Anderson, one of the named plaintiffs in the case, said that he and his fellow officers 'are happy this is behind us, but disappointed that we won't be able to put on our case and show everybody the deception and violation of trust that occurred. It has been very stressful for the city to deny for the last four years what they did.'
The ACLU/SC and its legal partners filed a class-action lawsuit against the department and Scharf in 2004, one year after a hidden camera was found in the police department's men's locker room.
A member of the Ontario Police Department first arranged for the installation of the surveillance camera inside the locker room sometime around 1996, and later stated it was 'authorized' by higher ranking officers. The camera was concealed in the ceiling of the room which provided a view of the door, the adjacent lockers and a dressing area. The camera was attached to a videotape recorder in a nearby office. It remained there until it was discovered during the department's move into new headquarters in 2003.
All the persons identified on the single videotape that was found were represented in the lawsuit.
'This settlement agreement will bring closure to police officers who were put in the unfair and stressful position of confronting their own supervisors and department over something they knew was illegal,' said Anne Richardson, a partner with Hadsell Stormer. 'A locker room is not an appropriate place for secret surveillance, and police officers are entitled to the same privacy rights that we all have in such a location.'